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Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, 2010: “Watch Out!”

December 4, 2009

Audio for the Gospel reading is here.

Audio for this homily is here.

“Watch Out!”

I found a pretty interesting article in Saturday’s paper.  It seems that some folks at Toys R’ Us on Friday morning had a bit of a scuffle: some folks, who had been waiting in line for hours to get Toys R’ Us at midnight were forced to defend their places in line against some late-comers who wanted to bum-rush the doors!  For the most part, the incident ended peaceably, but there were threats of Taser use, and at least one couple got pepper-spray in the face and a sprained ankle out of the whole affair.

The reflexive reaction would be to point and go, “See there? Rampant consumerism sins again!”  But this isn’t the typical “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” message.  I don’t want you to focus on the shame of the over-commercialization of Christmas (though it is sad); I don’t want to criticize the consumerism that drives some to value a few dollars more than the time they could spend with their family (though I think priorities may be out of whack). 

Maybe today’s readings have a meaning that goes beyond those things to something much more basic, but much more important.  And maybe that Toys R’ Us incident serves to remind us about it.

On this first Sunday of Advent, our readings point us in what may seem an odd direction.  The reading from Jeremiah points to a time that is, even today, a long way off:  a time of safety and security for Jerusalem.  In the second reading, Paul urges the Thessalonians to continue to conduct themselves as they’d been instructed, so that they could be “blameless in holiness…at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.” Then in the Gospel, Jesus gets all scary!  “…On earth nations will be in dismay…” “People will die of fright…” Jesus describes the end of time in a way that could scare anybody!

But look at what He’s really warning against:  Jesus says, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life”!  Jesus was instructing His disciples to spend less time worrying about today, and more time focused on living a life that would keep them prepared for His return!  And why was he telling them this?  Because He wanted them to be ready:  “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”  All these warnings were intended as a “heads up” to the disciples,   so that they would not get caught up in the foolishness that the rest of the world could be expected to engage in when He returned! 

We’re a long way from those days of expectant longing for the Lord to return.  The people of Paul’s time were waiting for Jesus to return just any day, in their lifetime.  The people in Jeremiah’s time we recently exiled, and were in a time of repentance and mourning over the loss of Jerusalem; they longed for the time that God would forgive their sins and return them to Jerusalem.  And the people of Jesus’ time had been waiting anxiously for the arrival of the Messiah, who would break the yoke of oppression placed on them by the godless Roman Empire.  We don’t have any of those problems.

No, instead, we have the pressures of a culture that wants us desperately to be a part of it, to accept all the trash that it holds in high regard.  We live the exile of a pilgrim people, wandering what can be a wasteland of wrong ideas about what’s really important.  And most dangerously, I think, we live in a world that wants us to be anxious about the things that it cares about:  money, and status, and appearances, and popularity, and being the first one to have this thing or that outfit, this gaming console or that new car, this big house or that important job.

And Jesus warns us against all of these things, too.  There’s more than one kind of drunkenness, and more than one kind of carousing.  And if some oft the things I mentioned aren’t causes of anxiety, I don’t know what would be!

 

But brothers and sisters, we do not have to live like that!  We do not have to live anxiously, worried about what’s coming next, or whether we’ll have the next “thing” that we want.  We are called to choose differently, and that is what Advent can help us to do!

Advent is a time to focus on our hope, Jesus Christ!  And as much as it’s a time to look forward to celebrating the birth of our Savior, it is, even more, a time to prepare our heart for His Second Coming!  Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was for us, too: that the Lord would strengthen our hearts to be “blameless in holiness”.  Jeremiah’s prophecy of safety and security applies to us, the New Jerusalem, as much as it did to the kingdom of Judah. 

And Christ hasn’t returned yet, brothers and sisters, so His warning to “Beware that [our] hearts do not become drowsy” is still in effect.  We can focus on Jesus in His Word, focus on Jesus in His Church, focus on Jesus in The Eucharist we share, and defeat the drowsiness that our culture tries to put into us!

And when the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars” begin to happen, we will be able to “stand erect and raise [our] heads because [our] redemption is at hand!

 

I’m glad I wasn’t at Toys R’ Us last Thursday night.  I don’t know that I would have handled myself well.  And I’ve never been a fan of pepper spray.  And while the consumerism that this incident demonstrates, and that has become almost the whole point of Christmas these days is not a good thing, it isn’t the worst thing we can fall into this Advent.

Are we anxious about anything, so anxious that it distracts us from thinking about eternity?  Are we so busy partying, or so drunk on stuff, or power, or money, or anything else that it distracts us from remembering that Christ is coming back?

Advent reminds us to be watchful.  Advent calls us to focus on the eternal more than the “right now”.  Advent asks us to live “in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”, just as we will pray before Communion in a few minutes.

Jesus is coming.  And He says:  “Be vigilant”.  Watch out!

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